Dashing Through the Snow: Signs of Hypothermia
Posted December 13, 2012
The weather in Texas is extremely unpredictable. One day it's 60
degrees and raining, the next it's 80 degrees with sunshine.
Winters can be even worse with unexpected cold fronts. With
extremely cold temperatures, hypothermia is a possibility for
Hypothermia, occurring in both humans and pets, is a condition
characterized by abnormally low body temperatures. There are three
phases of hypothermia: mild, classified as a body temperature of
90-99 degrees Fahrenheit; moderate, classified as a body
temperature of 82-90 degrees Fahrenheit; and severe, classified as
a body temperature of less than 82 degrees Fahrenheit. With
hypothermia, the dog is no longer able to control a normal body
temperature resulting in an abnormal heartbeat and difficulties
Generally, hypothermia results from spending too much time
outside in the cold. Although there is not a specific time
limit for a given temperature a dog should be left outside, Dr.
Stacy Eckman, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said time spent outside in the
cold should be restricted.
"The amount of time a pet should spend outside varies based on
how acclimated the pet is to cooler temperatures," Eckman said.
"Typically, we do not recommend indoor pets to spend considerable
amounts of time outdoors in cold temperatures without
Hypothermia should be considered when taking any pet into the
cold for long periods of time, but some are more susceptible to the
illness than others. Smaller, younger dogs, for example, are
likely to lose their body heat faster resulting in hypothermia,
"Geriatric patients may take medications that alter their
ability to regulate their temperature and blood flow making them
also more susceptible," she said.
She added that Arctic breeds such as Huskies or Malamutes can be
less prone to hypothermia than other breeds because of their
If a dog is left in the cold for an extended period of times,
signs of hypothermia to look for are shivering, lethargy, weakness,
and shallow breathing. The more severe the case of hypothermia, the
worse the signs will appear.
"After a period of time, the shivering stops and they become
more neurologically affected," Eckman said. "Their heart rates may
drop to dangerous levels, and it can be fatal."
It is important to take the pet to the veterinarian or seek a
veterinarian's advice if hypothermia is suspected. Once there, the
veterinarian can monitor the pet's heartbeat, breathing, and
temperature. If the temperature falls below 98 degrees
Fahrenheit, Eckman said the veterinarian will start "active
warming" on the pet. Active warming includes placing warm blankets
or heating pads on the animal and feeding it warmed oats or
rice. Eckman cautioned that owners should not perform these
methods of treatment before consulting a veterinarian.
"Items such as heating pads should never be applied directly to
pets as this can cause thermal burns," she said.
For severe cases, the veterinarian may give warmed IV fluids or
warm water enemas to the pet.
Another result from leaving a dog in the cold for long periods
of time is frostbite. Frostbite occurs on areas least covered
by fur such as ears and tails. Signs of frostbite include
red, swollen areas or pale, white areas. As with hypothermia,
it is important to consult a veterinarian if frostbite is
To prevent hypothermia and frostbite, it is recommended that
pets, particularly smaller, younger or older pets, are not in the
cold for extended periods of time. Eckman also recommended
putting sweaters or booties on the pet to keep them warm.
"Dogs with coats and booties may look cute, but this 'fashion
statement' may protect from hypothermia," she said.
This winter, whether staying in Texas or traveling to Colorado,
remember to monitor the temperature if your pet is spending
extended periods of time in the cold.
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